Reading culture kept alive through libraries

The 9th ALP Summit celebrated the power of books to change lives

In Summary

• Migori hosted the African Library Project summit to celebrate reading

Rongo University VC Prof Samuel Gudu delivers his speech
Rongo University VC Prof Samuel Gudu delivers his speech

Bibliophiles and literatis from Africa and the US gathered at Hotel Vannah in Migori county on March 5 for the grand opening of the 9th African Library Project summit.

This year’s theme was: “A Celebration of Reading”. The ALP is a non-profit organisation that starts libraries in rural Africa. US volunteers organise book drives and ship books to libraries in African countries, namely Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Uganda.

With an international network of partners, volunteers and community supporters, book drives are always transformed into sustainable libraries, promoting and raising literacy levels among users.

After 30 minutes of waiting for the delegation of teacher-librarians, ALP guests and head teachers of participating schools to settle down, the summit began.

A band of pupils from Holistic Space Academy led in reciting the National Anthem before receiving prayers. Thereafter, there was a loud silence as the attendees waited for the first speaker to step on the platform, each prepared with a new notebook and pen.

First on the mic was Rongo University vice chancellor, Prof Samuel Gudu. He narrated a brief history of his own personal life in search of literacy through the library.

“When I think back in my life to see how the library has pulled us from where we were, in different villages, to where we are today, someone can imagine that things were very easy for us. It wasn’t,” he said.

He recalled sharing a single book in the whole class.

In his speech, he welcomed all partners to the 9th ALP summit, terming it an honour for the university to host it.

Your physical presence here after many years of working in the background to collect books, fundraise and coordinate many activities is an indication of commitment, compassion and friendship to the people of Kenya and, indeed, Africa in general,” Gudu said.

He said their generosity had helped to build not just libraries but also bridges to a brighter future for many young readers.

Gudu encouraged teachers to promote readership among learners. “I call upon teachers to encourage pupils to read as often as possible and to cherish the power of books in shaping their thoughts and providing learners with the knowledge and appropriate attitude and culture that promotes success in and after school.”

He promised teachers support from the university. “I want to assure you that the university will continue to partner with you in all endeavours in advancing education for all.”


Next on stage was Kibabii University vice chancellor, Prof Isaac Odeo.

Just like Prof Gudu, he also gave a brief background history of his personal life.

“The first time I came to Migori was in 1978, when I was posted to teach in school. That school had no library but by the time I left, it had a library. Then I came back in 2013 with a donation of books worth 80,000.”

He urged Prof Gudu to donate books to his former school.

“Now that this is happening, I would like to request my brother Prof Gudu to have a soft spot for Nyaroha Girls, if there is anything you could spare,” he said lightheartedly. 

“If you can’t do it, I will do it from Bungoma.”

Odeo reflected on what made him be the person he is today.

“I am what I am because of reading. And no single great leader in this world has become a great person without reading.”

He listed prominent leaders associated with readership. “I’ve read about Winston Churchill, I’m told he liked reading. I met Obama (although never shook hands with him) at Safari Park Hotel, when he was addressing university students. And I’m told he also loves writing and reading,” he said.

“I met Nyerere, and he was an avid reader. I shook hands with Kibaki when he was the chancellor of MMUST, and Kibaki loved reading.

“I never met Thabo Mbeki when he came to Nairobi, although I saw a picture of him buying books at Prestige Bookshop in Nairobi, a bookshop that I also go to. Of course, Mandela was one of the best readers. So just look at that and see what reading can do.”

Odeo said 43 schools have benefitted from ALP since 2021. Three community libraries have also been set up. The books that have been shared out are 47,000.

“If we have what we hope to get this week, the number will come up to about 70 (schools),” he said.

Echoing at what Prof Gudu said, he reinforced the power in books. “Books have a lot of impact, so it’s something that’s good to do.”

“In Bungoma, the schools that have benefitted are sharing the good news about improved performance in English, so you can see what these books are doing.”

Odeo said the culture of reading keeps children away from mischief. It can also minimise mental health issues, he said.

“We want to rope in the county government like Rongo University has done and also the national government,” he said.


Next on stage was the African Library Project’s founder, Chris Bradshaw, from the U. She came in singing Them Mushroom’s ‘Jambo Bwana’ song.

After singing the common chorus lyrics, she got stuck, letting the Kenyan delegates and the audience in general help her out.

“We are proud to partner with Rongo University and Kibabii University. And we are so impressed by your mission of providing community service and honoured that you’re doing it by creating libraries in your counties,” she said, leading applause for them.

“Today, we are celebrating 20 years of the African Library Project, and 4,000 libraries that are going to be shipped this week, and we’re serving more than 4 million readers on the continent.” 

Shaw questioned the readership of teacher librarians as they grew up. But she spared them, implying they might have grown up in an environment where books were out of their vicinity. Nonetheless, she implored them to create a readership habit among their students.

“While in the library, smile because it signifies that you care about them and you want to help and in that way, you’re such an important piece of the chain of literacy,” she said.

Various reports have said that many people found solace in books after being forced to stay indoors during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Krish Nachnani, one of the guests from US, was no exception. He amused many when he greeted the audience with “Habari Zenyu.” 

“It was during the Covid-19 pandemic that I realised the true value of holding a physical book in hand,” he said.

Pupils from Assar Johansson school were invited for edutainment. With their “open a book” poem, these glowing pupils presented the top benefits of reading.

Migori county director of education Rose Odhiambo was speechless for a while. “Yeah, I’m trying to bring myself together because I can’t believe what I’m seeing today, it’s quite humbling,” she said.

She also had her own history that reflected how the reading culture propagated her to where she is today.

“I had a lot of interest in biology but it took the hand of my brother to get me here. He bought one book all the way from Maralal, where he was working,” she said.

“As I speak to you now, I can proudly tell you that’s the book that pushed me to be a professor in criminology and parasitology.”

While reading speech on behalf of the governor, she applauded the efforts made by Rongo University and ALP for organising such an eventful and memorable summit.

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